Google Expands Mobile Push With Ads in Its Maps App

Search Giant Expands Marketers' Reach in Mobile

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An example of a paid pin in Google's Maps app.
An example of a paid pin in Google's Maps app. Credit: Google

Google for the last few years has been working to prioritize mobile, not only trying to enhance the user experience for consumers but giving advertisers more ways to reach them.

Now the company is making another leap in its mobile ad offering, rolling out ads in its Maps app.

The new products, announced at the annual Google Performance Summit on Tuesday, include ads that pop up in search results in Maps. Someone searching in Maps for coffee shops, pharmacies or gas stations, for example, will see ads for specific coffee shops, pharmacies or gas stations atop the list of results. Pins marking advertisers' locations will also pop up directly on the map portion of the results screen.

Those promoted pins can also appear in the app's navigation mode, which complements on-screen directions with audible instructions. Navigation ads will be visual only, not spoken.

(Google announced Assistant, its AI-heavy voice helper, last week at its I/O event for developers, so it's not impossible to conceive of audible ads in Google products at some point in the future.)

The new products give advertisers, especially retailers, a way to increase their mobile advertising as it relates to search and navigation. Fast food companies, for example, could see the value in buying promoted pins along expressways to attract people on road trips.

Advertisers will also have the option to not just advertise the location, but what's inside as well. Tapping a promoted pin will bring up a "business" page with offers and promotions at that spot, as well as information already available for many locations in Google Maps such as address and hours.

A business page in new Maps advertising.
A business page in new Maps advertising.  Credit: Google

Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior VP-ads and commerce at Google, said this year is "all about mobile." Unlike previous years "of mobile," when people anticipated wide adoption, 2016 is about offering products to advertisers when that adoption has already happened, he said.

"It's clear to all the advertisers that mobile is something that's already here," Mr. Ramaswamy sai. "It is the mainstream."

"Trillions" of web searches happen every year, half of them on smartphones, he added.

Nearly one-third of mobile searches on Google are related to location, according to Google, Google said, with location-related mobile searches growing 50% faster than all mobile searches.

Google has touted to advertisers its "micro-moments" strategy, capitalizing on its ability to divine consumer intent when people use mobile search for quick answers or solutions. Mr. Ramaswamy said the Maps ads are another way for advertisers to get in front of consumers at appropriate moments.

While mobile has become the crucial battleground for Google, Facebook and other digital giants, for many marketers it remains a piece of the puzzle. Some 90% of global sales still happen in stores instead of online, according to Jerry Dischler, VP-product management of AdWords at Google. The way we discover and locate many things we buy may have changed, but we continue to make many purchases at the businesses around us.

How people react to seeing ads in Maps remains to be seen. But. Mr. Dischler and Mr. Ramaswamy said that Google is working to strike a balance that satisfies both consumers and advertisers. The number of ads served at any given time in Maps is still being fine-tuned, they said.

There is no plan to give consumers the option to turn off ads in Maps, they said, saying they will create a better user experience.

Marketers won't be able to buy category exclusivity in Maps.

Responsive ads for display.
Responsive ads for display. Credit: Google

Responsive display ads
In other announcements, Google said it is introducing a responsive display format to the ads its serves across the web. The ads will adapt to match the look and feel of the "diverse content across the more than two million publisher sites and apps on the Google Display Network," the company said in a blog post.

"Simply provide headlines, a description, an image, and a URL -- and Google will automatically design these beautiful responsive ads," the post added.

It also plans to allow longer headlines and text in AdWords, the core company product linking ads to keywords on which marketers bid, starting later this year.

In another shift, Google will start letting advertisers make AdWords bids by device -- smartphones, tablets or computers -- rather than just baking mobile into an overall buy. "As mobile becomes more central, we're expanding options," Mr. Dischler said. The change will take effect in the next few months, Google said.

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